Degenerative Changes of the Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is the mid-portion of your back and extends from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage. It is made up of 12 thoracic vertebrae, which are separated by soft spongy discs that aid in shock absorption. The thoracic spine has less movement and experiences less stress than any other part of the spine. Because of this fact, it generally has less degeneration than the neck and low back, according to Degenerative changes that do occur here can lead to symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling, and restricted motion. Conservative treatment is often effective at reducing pain and improving mobility.

Doctor explaining spine model to a patient (Image: 4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images)

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a process that breaks down the inter-vertebral discs. Each of these discs is comprised of a tough fibrous outer ring called the annulus fibrosis, which contains the soft jellylike center portion called the nucleus pulposus. Through injury, poor posture or age-related degeneration, the annulus dries up and cracks, allowing the nucleus to bulge outside its normal confines. This bulging can put pressure on nearby spinal nerves and cause symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling, and muscle weakness. Symptomatic DDD generally responds well to conservative treatment. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen, are helpful because they have both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, according to the Mayo Clinic.


The term, kyphosis describes a normal posterior curved in the spine. The thoracic and sacral regions of the spine normally have a kyphosis to them, while the lumbar and cervical regions have the opposite curves, a lordosis. Hyperkyphosis is an excessive degree to this curve that causes compaction and excessive wear and tear on discs, vertebra and soft tissue. Hyperkyphosis is often seen in the elderly, and can result from several different conditions such as osteoporosis, Scheuermann's kyphosis and postural roundback. Conservative treatment is aimed at strengthening thoracic extensor muscles and restoring motion to fixated joints, according to the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists.


Osteoporosis is a disease process that causes bones to lose mineral density and become fragile or brittle. These brittle bones become very susceptible to fractures and may break with even very minor stresses. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, women are four times more likely to get osteoporosis than men. This condition causes progressive degeneration of the bones, but is generally painless in and of itself. Many people do not know they even have the condition until a bonus fractured.


Osteoarthritis is a progressive wear-and-tear form of arthritis. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, it affects the cartilaginous covering of bones in the joints, causing them to wear out quickly. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, stiffness and a grinding sound with movement. Again, because of the relatively small amount of movement in the thoracic spine, osteoarthritis is not as common here as in the cervical and lumbar spine.

Load Comments

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use , Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy . The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.